What’s in Ilocos Norte that’s worth the nine-hour drive?

Published June 17, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Sandy Daza

BLACK NOODLE CHRONICLES Dried dinuguan pancit

Ilocos Norte has always been my second home. I lived there for a few years in the early ’80s, so whenever I visit now, it always brings back memories. A few months ago, I was back but for work. We did three shows for Foodprints. Of course, we had a grand time doing the shoots and when you have fun at work, it becomes play. I made a mental note to go back without having to follow a schedule.

Last week, I took a ₱2,000 PCR drive-thru test at the Red Cross in Megamall. The next day, I got my results and with all the required registrations on line, off we went. It was a pleasant nine-hour drive. We left at around 8:30 a.m. and arrived at almost 6 p.m. We made a delicious lunch stop at chef Nick Rodriquez’ Bistro Candon and started our Ilocano dining food trip. 

LOVE ILOCOS Dinakdakan

That evening we checked in at Java hotel. I was looking forward to the hotel’s restaurant Eagles Nest. They serve some of best and authentic Ilocano food in the province. That first evening, we had tuna kilawin. Delicious! I learned something new. Why not fresh tuna as kilawin? I prefer it to tanguingue. We also had the charred dinakdakan, the Ilocano version of sisig! Also delicious as expected. Then the dish I kept dreaming about was the dried dinuguan pancit. Yummy! Unique and also delicious! The breakfast of local longaniza is also a must. Crispy deep fried with spicy Ilocos vinegar, fried egg, and sinangag, this will make you dance! Take some home from the gift shop. 

NOT YOUR ORDINARY EMPANADA Clockwise from top left: Empanada salad, liquid bagoong and chili oil, as well as the nachos

We did all the touristy things like going to the sinking tower of Laoag, Paoay Church, the lighthouse in Bangui, but I insisted we pass by Pasuquin Bakery and have my new visitor try the soft anise-scented bread with a drizzle of Cheez Whiz. This was an appetizer before our lunch at Sammy Blas’ Kamarinn Cafe right beside the lake Paoay, of which it has a full view. It’s not only the view that’s stunning. Sammy makes the most delicious and unique dishes with an Ilocano twist. His nachos are a good starter with his homemade chips topped with sautéed ground beef, carrots, celery, onions, cheese sauce, and a tomato salsa. His pinakbet pizza is delicious, especially with a dab of his liquid bagoong and chili oil. Make sure you also bring home some of his bagoong and chili oil. His okoy also dipped in bagoong is so good. He had a yellow crispy crepe with freshly harvested veggies and herbs, fried egg, and a sweet patis dipping sauce. OMG! Also so good and healthy. He also makes a mean tamarind juice. What an experience! It was a perfect break from all the unhealthy but delicious pork dishes. 

IT’S GOOD DOUGH Pinakbet pizza

We are on our third day and I am still looking forward to Dawangs carinderia, Ilocos empanada in Batac, crispy miki at Seashells, and many more. 

I’ve been dreaming of the dried dinuguan pancit!

It’s really different when you have no schedule to follow. I needed this break. I haven’t felt what it’s like to be out of prison in a while. Meanwhile, stay healthy and safe and do get vaccinated. I have had my first jab—AstraZeneca! Waiting for my second dose. No side effect, except for my slight British accent.

Happy eating!

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